(This is not a typical LBL blog post. However, I wanted to keep track of these thoughts for the future and decided to record them here.)
Nee’s primary teaching is this: the hub of faith involves interaction with a living person. Most Christians would agree with this statement intellectually, and yet we do not live resting upon it. It has been far easier for the modern church to develop methods of spirituality, by which we attempt to obtain and replicate holiness in the power of our own determination. We have created techniques to parrot instead of urging people to dive into the fullness and sufficiency of the ever-present Christ.
Nee writes about how Christ’s claim to be The Way was quite literal. This is a difficult concept to explain, though it is the simplest thing in the world. This is because we have been trained our whole lives to rely upon religious, "Christian" methods. Practical reliance upon the living person of Christ is foreign, even to many who claim to know Him. We have depersonalized the most intimate, personal relationship possible.
Being post-Enlightment, reason-based thinkers, it is our default to believe that “knowing” something intellectually is the same as relying upon it. Yet, they are vastly different actions. It is possible to agree that a chair might hold us up, yet never sit upon it.
Likewise, we might “know” that Christ is the way to Christian living. We might agree with this statement in our minds. And yet, we might live decades without truly touching the living God, attempting to replicate religious works in the power of our own arms.
So we wilt. We grow exhausted. We burn out. Our efforts come from human strength, so they wither. We have not tapped into an endless Source beyond us.
One of the downsides to reliance upon methodology is that we miss the unique artistry of a God who works uniquely in each life. We look at someone else’s story, and we attempt to “reach” God in that same manner. And yet, we are discouraged when the same results do not happen. Nee writes,
“God has not given us a method; He gives His own Son to us. // Frequently we listen to the experience of others and feel its preciousness, but we see only a method instead of seeing the Lord whom the other person has touched. As a result, we suffer defeat after defeat. The prime reason is that we have not learned the Lord as the way. // Let us understand that to believe in the Lord himself, and to believe in a formula, are actually two different motions.” (Loc 39)
Nee also writes about the singularity of the gift of Christ. He does not believe God gives us a thousand separate "thing" gifts like love, patience, joy, etc.; but instead, He gives us one gift, Christ, in Whom all goodness dwells. I am still thinking about this proposition, as I can see a few different angles to it. However, I think Nee’s main point is important because so much teaching in the modern church is so horribly cluttered with futile "religious" activity. He writes:
“Many Christians tend to talk about the Giver and His gifts separately. But one day we find out that the Giver is himself His gift. For God does not bring out many and various items to give to us in fragments; what He gives is Christ.” (Loc 182).
It is true, I have sought the gifts apart from the Christ. And this makes me vulnerable to the “counterfeit Christianity” that Nee says is so prevalent in the church. He writes: “Everything in Christianity has its counterfeit — false repentance, false confession, false conversion, false zeal, false love, counterfeit works of the Holy Sprit, counterfeit gifts of the Holy Spirit, even counterfeit life.” (loc 202). How often I have been caught in that whirl of counterfeits — in the illusion of spirituality that is rooted in human strength instead of the living God.
Nee also writes about the value of the cross. By this, I believe he is referring to the often painful process of dying we experience as we walk with Christ. God leads us through storms and uses them to strip away what must be removed to embed us more deeply in Him. From these moments of wounding onward, we bear the scars of our dyings, just as Christ kept the wounds of His crucifixion. Yet this is not a bad thing, for our scars reiterate our lack of power and the fullness of Christ’s sufficiency.
“If the Lord has mercy upon us and severely strikes us one day, our old selves shall never be able to rise up again: the wound sill remain in us forever. Since it is still possible to touch, in the resurrected Christ, the wound of the nailprints in His hands and of the spear in His side, such wounding should never disappear in the lives of all who today know the Lord as resurrection. Experiencing this wound, we will never more dare to boast of ourselves and of our power.” (Loc 303)
I particularly appreciate some of Nee’s thoughts on dryness in ministry. I’m not sure I agree with his use of emotion as a guide — though some of his teaching on this may have been distorted in translation. (Perhaps what this translator calls emotion is truly a reference to the deeper Spirit sense of leading, which differs in source and substance from flesh-feeling.) Regardless, Nee discusses the fatigue that comes from attempting to work in the power of our own strength. When we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and strive, over and over again, to do what “should” be done, we grow weary. This is quite different from a daily reliance upon God in us, living through us.
There may be moments of reliance when what seems like the “right” thing to do (according to external religious standards) is not what we are actually called to do. These moments can be incredibly confusing, because it is difficult (particularly for first-born “doers”) to refuse every need that could be met in the world. And yet, to charge forth in the force of our human will, without reliance upon Christ’s strength, is futile. Over time, of course, this leads to spiritual exhaustion — for we have been trusting in self instead of being fueled by the Water which never runs dry.
One of my favorite sections of this book deals with how we treat the Bible. Nee believes the Bible is vital, and that we should devour it. Yet, why we do that is key. He writes:
“Everybody knows Christians should read their Bible diligently. But if we read it as a book of knowledge or as a textbook of theology, we will get nothing but knowledge. We may be able to acquaint ourselves with some Bible doctrines which are accurate, yet these are only letters. At the time that our Lord was born in Bethlehem, many priests and scribes were extremely familiar with the books of the prophets; nonetheless, they did not recognize the Christ.” ... “It is still possible for people to remember the letters of the Bible and yet not know the Christ. Not for a moment do we suggest that we need not read the Scriptures; we simply stress that in reading the Word we may obtain knowledge without ever knowing Christ.” (Loc 435)
I am interested in studying more Nee’s concept of Christ as our love, holiness, wisdom, etc. He teaches that a new believer will experience a time when God strips away many bad behaviors. Yet over time, God will also begin to strip away behaviors we deem as “good.” This is because we tend to separate the idea of “love” (for instance) from the person of Love. We make traits like love separate “things” instead of realizing they are actually flowing within and from Christ.
“But let me say that God will never allow love to be a thing in our lives forever. He must eventually make Christ our love. And in order to do that He has to take that object or thing called love away from us. “ And then again, “He will remove everything away, not only the things of the world but spiritual things as well. Before we were saved, worldy objects and affairs usurped the place of Christ; but after being saved, spiritual objects and affairs now tend to occupy Christ’s place. Hence, God must show us one day that ‘Christ is my world.’ Earlier He took from us the things of this world presently He is taking away our spiritual things. He removes our personal patience, love, power, gentleness, humility. Indeed, He removes all, that we may not live by these good things but live by a Person instead. We are patient not because we have received a power to be so, but because we have got a Person. So it is with humility and the rest; not power but a Person.” (667-677)
I haven’t thought through all of the implications of this yet. And I believe sometimes Nee expresses things in a way that is (perhaps) too universal. However, I love the core of this — the way it leads back to the centrality of Christ. It is true that I have fragmented Christian traits from the living Christ. I have pursued the religion externally without moving continually back to the Source and embodiment of life.
Because this next bit from Nee aligns with what I have recently been learning from several of Paul’s epistles, I was eager to read it. It is one of the most profound things I have ever read.
“How many people believe the Lord will rebuke us only when we sin! May I suggest that He who dwells in us will often chide us when we do good. For the principle before God is not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it is the tree of life. The knowledge of good and evil is inadequate, since the issue is a matter of life. On the day that one eats the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he must die. The tree of life alone is living.” (Loc 835)
We can know the difference between good and evil and attempt what is good. Yet where did eating of this tree lead? Death. The only source of life is not effort. It is Christ. I have never understood this aspect of the Genesis story so clearly.
In sum, I will post this quote regarding the two kinds of Christian life. This is because it captures the core of what I love about this book, as well as what I have been learning over the past two or three years.
“There exist two kinds of life among the children of God: one kind is full of things while the other kind is Christ. In appearance they look almost alike. Hence it is extremely difficult to locate their differences. Both may speak of humility, gentleness, love, or forgiveness. They are hardly distinguishable outwardly. Even so, the one is but a chain of things, whereas the other is Christ himself. How completely distinct they are inwardly.” (Loc 835)
P.S. There are about seven things I read in this book which differ significantly from my own beliefs. There are also about seven more that I simply find questionable. Perhaps later I will post them. For now, I think I’ll just stick with what I loved. This note is too long already.